Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance and the Public Service
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Malcolm Turnbull is really interesting, a former Prime Minister, every time he speaks of course, everyone listens. It was not that long ago that the Liberal party had him as their Prime Minister and leader. He has essentially said he regrets taking so long to call that Royal Commission. That is pretty significant, because if he regrets it, you know, he is the guy that held back, so did the Government. The Treasurer was a bit more careful today. I am going to be joined now by the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann. I would love to hear what he has to say. Minister, welcome.
MATHIAS CORMANN: G'day.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he regrets opposing the banking Royal Commission for so long. Do you share his regret?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Well that is nothing new. The then Prime Minister Turnbull, then treasurer Morrison and myself, we have all made those comments at various times last year, that with the benefit of hindsight we should have called the Royal Commission earlier. But of course our intention was to take action. There had been a whole series of inquiries, including inquiries through the Senate, comprehensive inquiries into the banks, comprehensive inquiries into ASIC. Our judgement had been that it was time for action, that the issues were well understood. That was the decision we made at the time. But all of us at various times last year made the point in the context of the Royal Commission taking place that, with the benefit of hindsight, we should have initiated it earlier. But in the end we did initiate it. We did appoint Commissioner Hayne as the Royal Commissioner, who has done an outstanding job. We put forward the terms of reference, the inquiry has now reported. It is now a matter of looking forward and taking action.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Labor wants the Government to schedule more Parliamentary sitting days to implement the most basic recommendations. Will you do it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Labor party is doing what the Labor party does, which is play politics. The Labor party knows that there is an election due by May. The Labor party knows that we will have to deliver a Budget in early April. In the context of that timetable, we have the appropriate number of sitting weeks between now and the most likely date for the election. There are Senate estimates weeks also scheduled in that period. We will action all of the recommendations that are made. Some of the recommendations will take some preparatory work to get them into the right position for them to be implemented appropriately and competently. We will go through those processes now. The Treasurer has already announced that the Treasury task force that was dealing with the Royal Commission has been changed into a financial services reform implementation taskforce ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But if I could interrupt, Minister, if it is an urgent issue, and clearly the public is alarmed and they are right to be, if you read that Royal Commission and hear some of the evidence that was given. Given that, why not make it a priority and show Australia that you are unified and willing to take action on the banks?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have made it a priority. We have taken action. We have implemented the Banking Executive Accountability Regime, which was supported by the Royal Commission. Indeed the Royal Commission asked for it to be expanded. We have made immediate announcements in relation to compensation arrangements for victims, giving additional power and resources to be relevant Australian financial complaints authority to deal with claims that have previously been settled by their predecessor organisations 10 years back. About 300 or so victims across Australia who will get compensation as is appropriate. And a whole range of other decisions have already been announced by the Treasurer. Some reforms will take some further processes in order to ensure we get them right. The Labor party of course knows this. They are just now opportunistically seeking to grab an angle to give them a headline.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: National Australia Bank chief Andrew Thorburn and chairman Ken Henry are standing firm today on fixing the banks' failings. They have of course received scathing criticism from the Royal Commission. You confident they have made the right changes? Do you stand by them?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is not my judgement to make as to who the chairman and the CEO of the National Australia Bank is, or indeed the chairman or CEO of any business across Australia. That is in the first instance a matter for them as individuals, for their boards and their shareholders ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Should they consider their positions?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not a commentator on business positions. What I would say is these are entirely matters for the board and the shareholders and indeed the individuals themselves, of these institutions, to consider in light of the findings that have been made.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you saw Ken Henry and the way that he behaved at that Royal Commission. You think that was acceptable?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I do not think it is appropriate for the Finance Minister to provide a running commentary on the conduct of individuals. Ken Henry was a previous Treasury Secretary, including a Treasury Secretary under the past Labor administration. I am not going to provide a running commentary on individuals. The findings of the Royal Commission are there for all to see. All of us in our respective areas of responsibility need to reflect now on those findings and respond to them appropriately. The Government is doing that and I expect that across the financial services industry as a whole, a lot of work is being done right now to ensure that what has happened will not ever happen again.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I just want to reflect a bit on politics, if we can before I let you go. Do you expect any other Coalition MPs, Liberal MPs, to announce their retirement?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Obviously I don’t know. What I can say is that in the lead up to every election, Members of Parliament on all sides, as is the case this time round, announced their intention to recontest or not to recontest, as the case may be. On the Labor side, Jacinta Collins, Kate Ellis... … interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you think there probably will be more?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t know is my truthful answer. My truthful answer is that I do not know whether there are any more Labor, Liberal, Green, National or any other MPs that are yet to declare their intentions. I genuinely do not know. But what I can say to you is it is not unusual. … interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you are saying you expect it is inevitable?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is the time, what I am saying to you, is that in the lead up to every election, at this point of the electoral cycle, individual Members and Senators announce their intentions for the next term in the lead up to this election, which is entirely appropriate. That has happened in the lead up to every election I have been part of.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: In your own state of WA, given your party's low numbers of women, should a woman replace Michael Keenan?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have great confidence in the WA Liberal party organisation to choose the best possible candidate. I will leave it to them to make that judgement.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you think the best possible candidate should be female?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not know who is putting their hand up for that seat just yet. Nominations close ... interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But as a general principle, given your numbers.
MATHIAS CORMANN: As a general principle of course I would like us to attract more high quality women to represent the Liberal cause in the Parliament. Of course. But as far as the seat of Stirling is concerned, at this point in time, nominations have been opened as far as I am aware. I understand that they will close sometime over the next week or two. At that point in time we will know who has nominated and the local preselection committee will make a judgement on who they think is the best candidate.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just finally, if you do lose a vote on the floor of the House of Reps, do you see that has caused to go to a snap election? Would that be a vote of no-confidence the Government?
MATHIAS CORMANN: You have mixed two questions there. Firstly the previous Labor government lost… interrupted
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I like to mix.
MATHIAS CORMANN: If I may, because you have mixed two very fundamentally different concepts there. The previous Labor government lost more than 60 votes on the floor of the House of Representatives, point number one. Point number two, we believe that we continue to enjoy the confidence and supply in the House of Representatives. We have been, the Morrison Government has been, a minority government from day one and all the way through, has and we believe continues, to enjoy the confidence and supply. That is quite a separate question from the question you have asked me. I refer you again to the circumstance under the previous Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor governments where the then government lost more than 60 votes.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The question I am asking, of course, is on Kerryn Phelps and her asylum seeker bill. If the Government were to lose that, and what I mean is that gets up in the House of Reps, which Kerryn Phelps still wants it to. She is campaigning for it to. She is lobbying very hard. Do you see that as giving you cause to go to a snap election if that does get up?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I would say here, it sounds to me like a lot of hypotheticals there. Our intention is to go the election in May, towards the end of May. That is the clear timetable. In relation to children on Nauru, the point I would make is that under our Government we have been able to get all children out of detention and off Nauru that Labor put there. Labor’s failed and chaotic disaster in losing control of our borders, resulted in 50,000 illegal arrivals by boat, on 800 odd boats. More than 1000 people lost their lives. Thousands of children were put in detention under Labor's failed border protection policies. What we have been able to do over the last five and a half years is not only to stop the boats and fix Labor's mess at our borders, we have also been able to deal with the backlog of legacy cases, as a priority now being able to remove all children out of detention and from Nauru.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Minister, many thanks for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.